I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’ –Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I write over here on my little blog from time to time. Mostly, I write about my children because I love them to the moon and back and I want to have a record of our lives for them to read someday, and also it is so very easy to write about the people you love. My children are still mostly without guile, though I know it’s only a matter of time before Townes and then Daisy will learn to lie. Or maybe it will be Daisy first, because she seems to already have an edge in that department. It’s utterly ridiculous to say she has street smarts at this point, but I’m tempted. She’s wily. Townes remains an open book - so far. My conversations with our kids are transcriptions, but everything else is an impression. And it’s my Van Gogh. Tim’s might be more of a Cezanne if he wrote his down. Memory is mutable.
This is how I see it. Tim and I, like most married couples with small children have passively witnessed the erosion of some of our friendships. People fall away naturally. Your single friends without kids continue on singling through life, going to movies and out to dinner at the drop of a dime, drinking themselves into boozy stupors, calling occasionally to see if you can come out to play, and being generally surprised that you can’t or would rather put the kids to bed than get elbowed by a cocktail waitress while you wait for your drink. Mostly, after a while, those friends turn to vapor because people like to have a two-way-street kind of situation in their friendships. A few outliers continue to work at keeping up their end of the bargain, even when you, exhausted by your beloved little people have long ceased to carry your weight. Those people are saints and we know it and we’re incredibly thankful they stick around at all.
Then, this amazing thing happens where formerly single people (or childless people) suddenly procreate (it always comes out of left field). Suddenly, they whizz back into your atmosphere almost exactly like a shooting star. That is a beautiful thing for a lot of reasons. So things ebb and flow, but through it all, you believe you know a person.
Tim and I have been together for almost five years. This is a long time in my romantic history. I’m actually not at all sure what I expected marriage to be other than another great adventure, which it certainly has been so far. I never aspired to be married as a destination. In fact, when we got together I was pretty sure I was going to gently into that good night all by my lonesome. Later, I learned that Tim had a similar path plotted for himself. And then we fell in love. Our love story is the same as every other love story, and it is nothing like any other love story. I still blush and grow sentimental and have not forgotten who I was in our courtship or how my entire body and soul seemed to hum whenever he was near (really!) But now we are married and things are not the way they were. You transfer the heady, narcotic feels for each other to your kids and that is fine. Not ok fine, but fine as in exceptional, splendid, superlative, wonderful. I have a secret hope that we will find our way back to a similar crest that we rode in the beginning sometime down the road. Like just about everyone else who has ever had two small children, we need to make more time for one another. There are never enough date nights. And just like all married couples I suppose, we have come to take each other for granted more than we should. But it’s fine. Not fine as in exceptional, splendid, superlative, wonderful. Fine as in ok, fine as in comfortable.
I mention all this now because being centered has never been more important to me. I have never been a grounded person. All of my friends know the stories. I’ve had 634 jobs. I gave away two dogs in my twenties. I careened around the globe, picking up jobs and people, fueled mostly by a kind of inexhaustible desire for other places, an existential curiosity and inability to commit. Also, I did not feel at home in my country. I never appreciated waving a flag the way most people do. When I’d get into arguments with conservative drunks in bars who’d say, “if you don’t like the way we do things here, why don’t you go to some other country,” I knew they were right. And so I’d go for a while. Then when I was abroad, I was never so generous to my countrymen (a lot of the Americans I’d butt heads with at home seemed so small and naïve in a charming way when I was out in the world). I was a gypsy.
I’m not terribly easy on myself (I mean, who is?) but I know I have always been a good listener. People tell me things – sometimes secrets, sometimes their entire life stories very early in our acquaintance. I also know my weaknesses. Reliable was not a word that people would use to describe me. And then, when it seemed least likely to happen, I met my husband and now we have this precious, quiet gift of a life together with our perfect kids. I don’t even miss my wandering ways that much. I miss the friends I made in other countries, but the thought of what I would have to give up to be closer to them (the proximity of grandparents and my sister) makes it difficult to seriously contemplate. And except for a very few people I knew who seem to have been hardwired for a more permanent nomadic existence (what an oxymoron), my fellow wanderers have put down roots as well in their home countries (for the most part).
People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden. -Narrator, Flight Club
And then, suddenly this year, all around us, people have spun off axis at an alarming rate, doing things so out of character for who we thought they were it takes your breath away. I can’t say more than that. But it has caused me to look both inward and outward and reflect a bit. So many people we care about going through such hard times and we just never knew. How could I have been so close to you and not known what you were enduring? How could he do this to her? How did she stand for so little for so long? You'd have to be some sort of monster. You'd have to be blind not to see it. And then, utlimately, I'm not surprised. Because you just never really know someone. It's arrogant to think you do. It's scary if you think about it too much. The knee jerk reaction would be to circle the wagons. There but for the grace of God go I. Bask in the humble brag stance of, “well, thank goodness we’re solid.” “Our house is in order.” But if anything, this year has shown me how fragile it all is. How little we know the people closest to us. How a few false steps can completely run your life off the road. How someone you thought you knew could turn out to be living a lie, or worse. While you’re over here dealing with THIS problem, the fates can be throwing a bigger, more ominous boulder in your path.
It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen. -Chief Bromden, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
A dear friend of mine from high school has started a very personal blog, sharing intimate details of her adolescence (I’m in there, pseudonymously). Her memories of who I was at a time when I was so unsure of myself have been a revelation to me but could not have come at a more perfect time. Also, reading her blog has made me a little bit cringe-y. Was I the good friend to her that she truly needed when she suffered a devastating loss? Was I so wrapped up in my own silly adolescent nonsense that I let her down? She doesn’t remember it that way, though she is one of the most generous people I know. I wish I could remember as much as she does, even though we’re all at best, unreliable narrators in our own stories. I want to write things down better and more truthfully for Townes and Daisy. I want them to know who I was and am, warts and all. I want them to know who they are to me as best as I can communicate. After I am gone I want them to have these stories to tell even if they ultimately aren’t that interested in them. I want there to be a box of the stories in case they ever wonder about me or our family and want to pull them out, even just for a day. It’s a weird kind of safety net. I know very little about my own parents before I came along. I wish I knew more. I know even less about my grandparents. The stuff that happens to us is part of life. The stuff that we do is something else. I want my kids to know how I felt about things. I need them to know how important our family is to me. How important my sister and mom and dad are to me. Someone recently implied that a troubling incident in our family would be too much, that estrangement offers a sort of refuge from these messy interactions. Until that moment, I’m not sure I realized how my connectedness to my family informs everything I do. It’s who I am. It’s why I like listening. It’s why people tell me stuff. I guess I need to know.